A bold vision to “reinvent the American dream” in Detroit

Philip Lauri wants to re-imagine the city of Detroit. He is the founder and director of Detroit Lives! a social brand dedicated to launching projects and ideas that will strengthen Detroit as a community and city.

Detroit Lives! has captured the attention of media ranging from Monocle to Time. And no wonder: Detroit Lives! constantly finds bold and imaginative ways to create a positive vibe about Detroit. For example, Philip and a peer once snuck into the abandoned (and iconic) Michigan Central Depot train station, arranged scrap metal to etch the message Detroit Lives! in the snowy ground where the main hall used to be, and then sold prints of the resulting image — an iconic portrayal of the city’s past and potential future trajectory.

Detroit Lives! is a creative multimedia effort. In addition to guerilla art, Detroit Lives! sponsors community goodwill projects, sells merchandise displaying its ubiquitous Detroit Lives! branding message, creates films, and generates editorial content on its blog – just like a multi-channel brand.

Philip, a Detroit native, founded Detroit Lives! after returning to Detroit in 2008. I interviewed him recently to better understand Detroit Lives! and how he’s improving public perception of the city. This is his story.

What’s the mission of Detroit Lives! in one sentence?

The mission of Detroit Lives! is to re-imagine Detroit.

We seek to help create a new and more positive image of Detroit. We manifest ourselves just as any brand does — like Nike, for example.

Nike makes basketball shoes, hockey sticks, skate decks, short films, clothing — you name it. Detroit Lives! does something similar, just on behalf of a city. We make T-shirts, posters, and paper goods that we sell in retail outlets – products that carry positive messages about Detroit. We make films that relate the message of possibility from the mysterious underbelly of Detroit.

We paint murals to make people smile. And we have a blog to create engaging dialog about Detroit.

We aim to create collisions of culture in the city, essentially bringing together Detroit residents in ways they might not have expected in order to envision a new future for the city.

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Pink Floyd shines on for Baby Boomers

When EMI Music announced in May that the record company would re-issue the Pink Floyd musical catalog via re-mastered compact discs, vinyl editions, and Blu-rays, a friend of mine in his 20s asked me who on earth would buy such a blatantly physical product in the digital era. Answer: Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomer generation is sizeable (nearly 80 million strong) and willing to buy music in analog form.

Unless you know something about the increasingly powerful Baby Boomer generation, the EMI re-issue certainly defies logic. Beginning September 26, EMI will shower Pink Floyd fans with a slew of analog goodies, including:

  • A re-mastered version of the band’s classic The Dark Side of the Moon via a two-disc “Experience” set, a vinyl LP, and a six-disc “Immersion” set (the latter retailing for $110 on Amazon as of September 25).
  • Fourteen remastered Pink Floyd albums, available individually and as a “Discovery” box set ($180 on Amazon @September 25).

In November, EMI will release the band’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here via five-disc and two-disc editions and then The Wall will receive similar treatment in February 2012.

The packaging promises to be extravagant. The Dark Side of the Moon Immersion box will include a booklet designed by Storm Thorgerson (who designed the original album art), an art print, and even a scarf. And the music is said to be remastered in superior Continue reading

Finally: 3-D that makes sense

It was only a matter of time before Disney Parks and Resorts responded to the success of Wizarding World of Harry Potter at rival Universal’s Islands of Adventure. And with the announcement of an Avatar world at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you should look for Disney to apply 3-D technologies where they make the most sense, which is creating an experience instead of trying to tell a story in a movie.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fun facsimile of the celebrated town of Hogsmeade from the beloved Harry Potter series of books and movies. But it feels like a small attraction wedged inside a bunch of other sections of Universal Orlando, just like Jurassic Park and Marvel Super Hero Island.

Based on news reports, Disney will collaborate with mogul and Avatar director James Cameron to surround park visitors in an immersive environment that recreates the world of Pandora from the movie, not just a ride or two.

Thomas Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, offers a revealing quote in a Huffington Post article about the collaboration between Cameron, his producing partner Jon Landau, and 20th Century Fox:

“One of the things that we found when we screened (AVATAR) was that the scenes that people liked best were not the obvious things, like the big battle scenes, and that sort of thing. It was the creatures. It was learning to fly. It was being in the forest at night. The impression that we got was people just like to go to Pandora . . .So here’s an opportunity to use (our) animatronic technology, and all of these amazing craftsmanship and design capabilities of Imagineering, and possibly rolling in mixed-media, 3-D projections, holography. Whatever makes sense to build, bring this world to life and actually get to wander in it and explore it, and see things you didn’t see either in the first film or in the subsequent two.”

James Cameron will remain closely involved in the development of the $500 million Avatar park. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013, and evidently other Disney properties beyond Animal Kingdom may see their own Avatar attractions.

Given Cameron’s commitment to developing 3D technology – he launched a technology venture earlier this year, building on his use of 3D in movies – the Avatar experience will achieve in a theme park what movies have thus far failed to accomplish: apply 3D successfully. Cameron’s technologists and Disney’s imagineers can go wild dreaming up ways for tourists to interact with six-legged Direhorse, four-winged Mountain Banshee, and blue Prolemuris.

With $500 million being sunk into the project, I have a feeling park visitors will experience something that does not require wearing dorky sunglasses, either.

For more reaction from Disney followers, check out this blog post from Inside the Magic and this Yesterland discussion of the news in context of the history of Animal Kingdom.

L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble: content marketing masters

In our always-on marketing world, it’s tempting to never look back. But sometimes reflection can be instructive. For instance, I was just reviewing a January 2011 Forrester Research report that cited trends for CMOs to watch in 2011. If you give the report a close read, you find Forrester forecasting the uptake of content marketing – something that did not jump out at me when I read the report nine months ago:

Brands will begin managing owned media like a product. Marketers are taking a more hands-on approach when it comes to the creative product by producing their own content. This past year, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart stole a strategy from the early days of soap operas and developed three prime-time made-for-television movies through P&G Studios. Meanwhile, Converse launched a community-based recording studio called Converse Rubber Tracks.

In fact, the rise of content marketing, which merited a small mention in Forrester’s report, has become an important part of the CMO’s agenda. And major brands like L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble have made content marketing (defined as building your brand by sharing useful information that engages people) an integral part of their marketing.

L’Oréal: beautiful content

In 2010, L’Oréal asserted itself as one of the most digitally savvy beauty and skincare brands in the L2 Digital IQ Index: Beauty & Skincare report (which was created with the support and sponsorship of my employer iCrossing). Among L’Oréal’s forward-thinking Continue reading

How Facebook perverts the English language

I certainly do not “Like” how Facebook perverts the English language by forcing us to us words inaccurately.

Case in point: recently, I heard about the launch of a Facebook page for a forthcoming (at the time) biography of Mick Jagger. I wanted to learn more about the book, get access to additional content about its subject, and better understand how the author was using Facebook to build a community.

To get content from the book’s Facebook page, I had to “Like”  page – something we do routinely now as a necessary step to perform consumer research for products and services that provide information through Facebook pages.

Of course, “Liking” the page for a book I had not even read was intellectually dishonest. But because of the way Facebook presents branded content, I could not click a “Learn More” button that implies no endorsement on my part.

Because of Facebook’s failure to comprehend the nuances of English language, I was put in a position of hoping that my Facebook friends, experiencing the same dilemma, understand what my “Like” really means. (And I think they do understand as evidenced by the way so many of us designate a Facebook “Like” with quotation marks as if to collectively roll our eyes at the vagaries of living in Facebook’s world.)

Since “Liking” the page for the Mick Jagger biography, I’ve discovered that Facebook automatically lists the book on my profile as one of my personal favorites. Could the situation become even more absurd? I still have not read the book, and my act of basic consumer research has resulted in my Facebook profile publishing less-than-honest information about me.

And, the incident has created a built-in resentment I’m going to need to put aside so that I can assess the book fairly when I read it.

Ironically the world’s leading social network is notorious for its insensitivity toward the way human beings behave, as we’ve seen when Facebook randomly introduces new services like Facebook Beacon that violate our privacy.  Facebook’s oafish command of English and reliance on an intrusive technology feature to post information on my profile without my permission is but another illustration of how human beings take a backseat to technology at Facebook.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is committed to keeping Facebook’s personnel count small.  But Facebook would do well to invest into something that the company does not seem to understand: human beings. Human beings who value communication. People who understand and respect the words we use to create social networks with each other.

Marketing by helping, not selling

The future of marketing is helping, not selling.

Those were the words of content strategist Jay Baer at the recent Content Marketing World conference, an event focused on helping brands become better content marketers. So what exactly does it mean to market by helping? On September 15, Internet security firm McAfee showed us by announcing the results of its annual “McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities” study.

McAfee is a lot like its owner Intel. Both companies provide services that are essential but kind of boring to talk about. McAfee provides unsexy but important security products and services to safeguard your personal and business computers. It’s the kind of company whose website features stock photos of bland, smiling corporate types dressed in power suits out of the 1980s.

That’s why the McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities surprises and delights. Each year, McAfee analyzes which celebrities are most dangerous to search for on the web – in other words, the names most often used by cybercriminals to lure web searchers to sites containing computer viruses and spam.

This year, McAfee revealed that searching for Heidi Klum’s name yields a nearly one-in-ten chance of landing you on a malicious site. So take a bow, Heidi Klum: you’re the most dangerous celebrity in cyberspace for 2011, unseating Cameron Diaz. The most dangerous male celebrity, by the way, is Piers Morgan. Ironically Lady Gaga ranks a relatively tame 58.

The McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities list qualifies as helpful content marketing for two reasons:

It’s useful

McAfee raises awareness about the vulnerabilities of web surfing for celebrity names. Searching for phrases like “Heidi Klum” and “free downloads,” for instance, expose you to risks for encountering sites that will steal personal information.

In a press release, Paula Greve, director of Web security research at McAfee, comments, “Consumers should be particularly aware of malicious content hiding in ‘tiny’ places like shortened URLs that can spread virally in social networking sites, or through e-mails and text messages from friends.”

You might think you’re beyond falling for malware traps, but in our multi-tasking society, even the most savvy among us can be vulnerable. McAfee earns our attention by helping us understand an important issue.

It’s engaging

McAfee could have relied on a perfectly functional but boring video featuring a security expert to remind us of the dangers of reckless web surfing – perhaps valuable but not very helpful if the video fails to engage you.

Instead, McAfee finds a fun way to keep our attention by tapping into our national fascination with celebrity culture. McAfee gives us an amusing version of the Vanity Fair annual New Establishment list, providing little tidbits of fun trivia that manage to educate. For instance, although Charlie Sheen might post a danger to himself (and his publicist), he’s not too dangerous in cyberspace.

“Hot movies and TV shows, awards and industry accolades seem to be more of a factor than headline-grabbing activity,” explains Greve.

The McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities List works as content marketing also for what it does not do: hit you over the head with a hard sell for McAfee. To be sure, McAfee slips in a reminder to use McAfee security software to safeguard our computers by performing a variety of tasks such as blocking risky websites. But the message feels earned in context of a larger and informative discussion about Internet security.

Since McAfee published its 2011 Most Dangerous Celebrities List on September 15, McAfee has quickly gained attention on news outlets ranging from CNN to Entertainment Weekly.  The PR returns alone, gained in a matter of hours, are priceless.

By sharing useful and engaging information instead of pushing product at us, McAfee defines helpful content marketing.

The high cost of brand failure

By triggering a catastrophic oil spill in 2010, BP made a mockery of its own carefully orchestrated $200 million marketing campaign to tout the company’s green values. One year later, BP continues to pay a price for failing to deliver on its brand promise to move “Beyond Petroleum.” As The Wall Street Journal reported on September 7:

  • The company’s share price is 44-percent lower than it was when the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster occurred – a rig explosion that killed 11 workers and inflicted harsh damage with far-reaching impact on anyone who calls Earth home.
  • BP has lost nearly $80 billion of its market value since the disaster occurred.

An energy fund manager interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said, “The impression is that events are happening to BP, rather than BP shaping events. There’s a sense that the company is not in charge.”

Considering that BP is responsible for dropping a massive pile of dung on the world, I am relieved to know BP is not “shaping events.”

Actions speak louder than words, indeed.

Nice guys finish first

Last year I blogged about how Twitter was a catalyst in the forming of a co-branding relationship that I formed with indie musician AM and Razorfish (where I was in charge of marketing). Since then, digital has once again helped launch a relationship – this time between AM and musician Shawn Lee. On the strength of a trans-Atlantic collaboration formed entirely in the digital world, AM and Lee have launched a new album, Celestial Electric, which was just named one of Yahoo Music’s “Ten Utterly Fantastic New Albums” of the week.

As discussed by Mashable and my post on the iCrossing Content Lab, AM and Lee essentially used digital to launch a new sound, “electro soul.” The initial fruits of their work, the single “Dark into Light,” caught the attention of publications such as Rolling Stone. AM and Lee are now on tour (with Thievery Corporation) to support Celestial Electric, whose positive critical reception includes reviews such as this one and this one.

Seeing AM succeed is satisfying on a number of levels. I have been captivated by his sophisticated style of music since hearing him in concert in March 2010. But I’m also glad to see a genuinely likable and cool guy like AM and his collaborator Shawn Lee get the attention they deserve. AM’s personal warmth is evident the moment you meet him, and I’m lucky to have worked with him.

Success (especially in the fractured music industry) does not always come to decent and talented people. AM and his manager Mia Crowe are not waiting for success to come to them; they have worked hard to help AM find an audience for his music, which has been described as a mélange of “the best of musical worlds, rippling through classic roots sounds: pop and rock, steamy soul and R&B, Brazilian tropicalia, British Invasion, and ‘60s Bay Area psychedelia.”

On the Content Lab for iCrossing (where I am vice president of marketing), I provide more insight into the story behind AM’s success. And you can learn more about AM on Facebook, Twitter, his website, and on YouTube.

Music I like: “Be With-Without You” by Symon G. Seyz

Be With-Out You by SymonG,Seyz
“Be With-Without You” by Symon G. Seyz caught my ear because of its smooth arrangement reminiscent of better ‘70s R&B. What makes the song is SymonG’s soulful rap punctuated by a recurring Isley Brothers-style guitar riff (listen for it 27 seconds into the song).

Symon G. Seyz shared this one with me via Jermaine Dupri’s Global 14 social destination, which is an outstanding source of emerging music from aspiring hip-hip and rap stars.

Symon G. is an emerging artist from Hammond, Indiana, and he has a string of mix tapes under his belt. He cites his early influences as Silkk, the Shocker, Mystikal. As he commented to me, “It is so hard getting people to check me out because none of my songs are about drugs or shooting people . . . I’m fighting an uphill battle.”

So please check him out.